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HR Horror Stories

Creepy, Terrible, Awful HR Nightmares

What’s your worst HR nightmare? Layoff lists getting shared too early? Compensation budget arguments turning ugly? Well, they have all happened and we’ve collected some frightful ones for you to read below.

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Please write us back with your creepiest tale and we’ll post it before the end of the month.

An Eight-Legged Visitor

This HR horror story actually happened during Halloween. As people in the office were putting up Halloween decorations one woman asked that they be place far away from her because she was afraid of spiders. In fact, her exact words were, “Please put those over there. I am deathly afraid of spiders.”

Unfortunately, one of her co-workers thought it would be funny to poke fun at this woman’s fears. This woman was 50-something and was recovering her sight in an eye where she had recently suffered from a detached retina. Her co-worker approached her from the side of her bad eye and placed a huge, fuzzy, fake spider on her shoulder.

Not being able to tell if the spider was real or not, the poor woman screamed, wet her pants and then quit her job. This sad event happened on a Friday morning and the woman was gone by Friday afternoon.

As the HR manager, I was so upset and determined to ensure that the aggressor was punished that I called the president of the company the next day, Saturday, to talk about it. He agreed that a reprimand was in order.

But, along with all of the other shocks and spooks that happen around Halloween, I received a big surprise on Monday morning when I arrived at work to find out that, instead of punishing the offender, a tribunal had been called to figure out why I was out to get the person who had played the trick. Now I was in trouble. Any wonder why I left that job?

- Kelly, Des Moines, Iowa

Disappearing and Reappearing Benefits

Several months into my position as the first full-time HR manager for a start-up company in Seattle, I had completed redesigning the layout for the personnel folders. In the process, I noticed that a lot information pertaining to benefits seemed to be less than organized. At that point, I decided it would be prudent to develop a quick reference on all the employees so I could quickly access which benefits each person had.

It was a fun, easy idea at first, which quickly began to snowball. Only after speaking with several employees and checking with accounting, I discovered that there wasn't a match between the deductions that were being made in people's paychecks and what benefits they received. After recruiting the head accountant, we worked with our main benefits broker and revealed a big amount of trouble.

Out of the approximately 60 employees in Seattle alone, at least 20 percent of them were either paying for benefits they weren't enrolled in, or were signed up for benefits they weren't paying for.

This issue ultimately required me to sit down with each employee and break the bad news to them about what had been going wrong with their benefits for approximately a year.

The only saving grace in this mess was that in working with our broker, we were able to refund the money to those employees who were paying for benefits they weren't receiving. Or, if the employee wanted the benefits and was already paying, we could help them out, too.

Fortunately they weren't benefits that were vital to day-to-day, such as medical and dental, but still, that was one of those times where, as an HR professional, you know if you pull on the string, the ball is going to do something. But, unfortunately, you know you gotta do it.

- David, Seattle, Wash.

The Monster Project

This story begins with me as the manager of an HR department of four people where one person had just quit and our part-time person was on medical leave. So, we only had two people working on the team.

A new VP of finance and administration had just been hired and she came to me and said we needed to create job descriptions for everyone in the company. They did not exist in any form at that time. I said, “Okay, what is the timeline?” “I think we need to do this in the next two weeks,” she said. I looked at her in shock and said, “That’s not possible. I’m down two people and I don’t think we could even find a consultant who could do it in two weeks.” She replied, “I just figured you would just increase your working hours.” I looked at her and said, “I quit.”

She agreed to give me three months to do the project - and then leave.

- Susan, Ojai, Calif.

Secrets on the Whiteboard

When a company is planning to do layoffs, the executive and management team tries to keep the proceedings under wraps, having secret off-site meetings, negotiating between departments without letting on about what it going on and trying to keep employees in the dark. Employees catch wind of layoffs very easily if the management team isn’t careful.

I was working at a company and walked into a meeting room where a group of executives had just met. On the board was a list of names that someone had left behind. I was in the loop on the upcoming lay-offs so I knew what the list meant. There were even notes next to each person’s name. I saw my assistant’s name on the list, realized I would need to fight to keep her, then quickly erased the list.

- Jeff, Boston, Mass.

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